Rehabilitating child welfare : children and public policy,1945-1980

by Ethan G Sribnick

Institution: University of Virginia
Year: 2016
Keywords: Child welfare  – United States  – History  – 20thcentury; Children  – Government policy  – United States  – History – 20th century
Posted: 02/05/2017
Record ID: 2063623
Full text PDF: http://libra.virginia.edu/catalog/libra-oa:10780


In the period after World War II, a network of activists attempted to reform the programs that supported and assisted delinquent, dependent, neglected, abused and abandoned children and their families in the United States. This dissertation examines their efforts to reshape child welfare arguing that it was motivated by the “rehabilitative ideal,” a belief that the state was ultimately responsible for the physical and emotional development of every child and a faith in therapeutic services as a way of providing for children and their families. This argument contributes to our understanding of the rise of a therapeutic state, placing this notion within a particular historical period and within the narrative of the changing nature of American liberalism. The rehabilitative ideal and the child welfare network emerged out of a confluence of trends within American liberalism, social welfare agencies, and social work approaches in the period after 1945. This study provides detailed examination of this phenomenon through the lives of Justine Wise Polier, Joseph H. Reid, and Alfred J. Kahn, and the histories of the Citizens’ Committee for Children of New York, the Child Welfare League of America, and the Columbia University School of Social Work. Investigations of the developments in juvenile justice, foster care and adoption, child protection, and federal assistance to child welfare services over the 1950s and 1960s demonstrate how the rehabilitative approach shaped child welfare reform. In each of these areas, the child welfare network and the rehabilitative ideal achieved great influence by the 1960s. By the 1970s, however, new ideological and intellectual trends challenged the rehabilitative ideal and the postwar activists. Exemplified by Marion Wright Edelman and the Children’s Defense Fund, these new activists and organizations had a more ambivalent attitude toward the role ofthe state and its intervention in families than the postwar network. These new perspectives transformed the approach to and the justification for reforming child welfare policy, and continue to shape public policy for children and families. Note: Abstract extracted from PDF file via OCR. Advisors/Committee Members: McCurdy, Charles W. (advisor), Balogh, Brian (advisor), Aron, Millicent (Cindy) (advisor), Patashnik, Eric (advisor).